Food Irradiation in Australia
The Steritech Application to irradiate your food

Introducing Steritech

Steritech is the leading contract processor for irradiation in the Asia Pacific region and is one of the largest irradiation companies in the world. Steritech is scheduled to build a new gamma irradiation plant in the state of Queensland. The irradiation facility will be built in capital city of Brisbane in the suburb of Narrangba, less than 500 meters from a local school.

In 1998, George West, Steritech Pty Ltd General Manager, addressed the New Technology for Traditional Industries Academy Symposium. His speech, 'Food Irradiation - its benefits and limitations,' elaborated upon the downsizing of the medical manufacturing industry over the last decade. Accordingly, much of Steritech's original business shrank considerably and the company sought new business markets, seeing food irradiation as a major potential money earner.

What foods does Steritech want to irradiate?

ANZFA Application A413: Irradiation of Herbs and Spices, Nuts and Oilseeds, and Teas by Steritech Pty Ltd Foods proposed to be treated with ionising radiation are-
* Tree nuts including whole, chopped, slivered, flaked and powdered
* Vegetable seasonings
* Oilseeds for beverages and sweets
* Herbs (fresh and dried) from leaves (oregano, basil, parsley); roots (garlic, onions) or rhizomes (ginger, turmeric)
* Spices from seeds (pepper, nutmeg, mustard); berries (allspice); buds (capers, cassia); bark (cinnamon); flowers (saffron and dill); Pods (chilli, nasturtium)
* Teas including herbal teas

What doses of ionising radiation will Steritech use?

* Nuts irradiated to a maximum of 10 kGy
* Oilseeds irradiated to a maximum of 10 kGy
* Herbs and Spices irradiated to a maximum of 30kGy
* Tea including herbal teas to be irradiated to a maximum of 30 kGy

What is a dose?

A radiation dose is the quantity of radiation energy absorbed by the food as it passes through the radiation field during processing. It is now generally measured by a unit called the Gray (Gy). In early work the unit was the rad (1 Gy = 100 rads).

What are the effects of the doses?

Radurisation - low doses below 1kGy: sprouting of vegetables such as potatoes and onions can be inhibited so that they keep longer. Ripening of fruits can be delayed so that they keep longer and can be transported longer distances; insect pests in grains, wheat and rice or in spices can be killed.

Radicidation - medium doses between 1kGy and 10kGy reduces the number of microorganisms that lead to food spoilage. Yeasts, moulds and bacteria are reduced to extend the life of foods and reduce risk of food poisoning.

Radappertisation - high doses above 10kGy. At these extremely large doses, higher than 10Kgy, food can become completely sterilised, killing all bacteria and viruses. This would be used mainly for meat products allowing them to be kept indefinitely.

(Source: Webb, T., and Lang, T., London Food Commission "Food Irradiation the Facts", Thorsons Publishing Group, Great Britain, 1987.)

How was the Food irradiation debate gagged in Australian Parliament?

Australian Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, asked why the moratorium on food irradiation was lifted. The response, by Senator John Herron, representing the Minister for Health, Dr Michael Wooldridge, was to totally dismiss the issue. Senator Stott Despoja's questions were whitewashed and the answers provided were a complete obfuscation of the real issues that the Senator raised. The Health Minister simply dismissed food irradiation as a 'complex and detailed issue', which he obviously did not wish to debate publicly. This verbatim extract from the Australian Parliamentary record, Hansard details the Health Minister's response.

Tuesday 12, October 1999, Hansard, Australian Senate.

Senator Stott Despoja: my question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care. I am wondering if the Minister is aware that the Australia New Zealand Food Authority's own fact sheet states: "it is not always possible to detect an irradiated ingredient when it is a component of a large food product or if for example an irradiated spice is blended with a large volume of non irradiated spice. Given this, how does ANZFA intend to implement its recommendations endorsed at the August health ministers meeting to label all irradiated foods when detection is so difficult? And can the government really guarantee that all irradiated foods will be labelled, if irradiated ingredients are present and undetectable in the food supply?"

Senator Heron: The Minister for Health and Aged Care has provided the following additional information in answer to the honourable senator's question. Labelling of irradiated foods or irradiated ingredients will need to comply with the current regulations in the Food Standards Code, not to do so will put a food manufacturer in breach of the States and Territory food laws and the Fair Trading Acts. It is illegal to sell irradiated food in Australia. The new standard requires a case-by-case approval of any product to which ionising radiation may be applied. All irradiated foods, no matter how minor the ingredients will be labelled, and approval will need to be subject to a demonstrated technological need. Applicants must also show that irradiation would not be used as a substitute for good manufacturing and good hygiene processes. Manufacturers will know that their ingredients have been treated by irradiation because of the approval process. If a manufacturer knows the product to be free of irradiated material there will be no requirement to so label the product but it may be so labelled.

Senator Stott Despoja: Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his response in particular, his recognition that there is a distinction between cooking of the food through irradiation procedures and actually sterilising the food and therefore there is a health issue for consumers. I acknowledge the Minister's comments in the relation to keeping consumers informed, but I must ask the Minister: Given your concern about informing consumers about what they are eating, why is it that the Health Ministers did not include, in their post-meeting communiqué, the decision to lift the 10-year moratorium on irradiated foods? Why was that not open to the public and the media? Is this just another issue, like that of cadmium in peanuts, which was snuck through without proper debate while everyone else was focusing on the gene food decision?

Senator Heron: The Minister for Health and Aged Care has provided the following additional information in answer to the honourable senator's question. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Committee (ANZFSC) which consists of the New Zealand State and Territory Health Ministers and is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Grant Tambling, met on 3 August 1999. At the conclusions of the meeting, ANZFSC issued a communiqué about the meeting particularly describing the issue of the labeling of genetically modified foods.

The communiqué also noted that the Council had considered strict control of food irradiation, food safety standards and cadmium in peanuts. It was the view of the Health Ministers at the meeting that the media and public would in the first instance only be interested in the topical agenda item dealing with the labelling of genetically modified food. The other issues are complex and a detailed information package on all these issues was subsequently prepared, issued to the media and placed on ANZFA's website on 6 August 1999. (end of transcript)

Subject dismissed! Presumably the Health Minister thinks this issue is just too 'complex and detailed' for an open and honest public debate.

The myths about labels

Don't be fooled into reassuring coos from the experts that have declared food irradiation safe. Don't be fooled into believing that irradiation is O.K so long as food is labelled and we have choices. History tells us that such choices can be quickly eliminated through effective lobbying by industry groups and transnational companies with unlimited funds.

Even the best regulations on labeling are useless because they cannot be enforced. There is no single test for food irradiation because different foods are affected in various ways. Unless a single test is developed and monitoring agencies are trained to use it, consumers will be at the mercy of food processors, who are responsible for labelling of irradiated foods.

Some quotable quotes from the Steritech application

* "Herbs and spices are not intended as, nor do they contribute significant nutrients" (to the diet).
* "Herbs and spices are 'optional' and are not important parts of a recommended daily dietary intake."
* "Herbs and spices are 'minor use' products, consumed in small amounts and are not required as part of a balanced diet."
* "It is reasonable to expect that many consumers will not hold an opinion about food irradiation one way or another. Their choices will be made based on price and other food attributes and they will not have time or interest to debate food processing technologies".

Is the public being consulted about the Steritech application

The Australia New Zealand Food Authority has accepted Steritech's application and it is now subject to evaluation. One period of public consultation (from 11 October - 6 December 2000) has already been held. Another consultation period will run from February - March 2001. During this second consultation period, a draft report on scientific issues associated with the application will be considered. Public comment received during the initial consultation round will also be reviewed. The report will propose a course of action in relation to the application.

Downoad the order form to obtain the special investigative report "Food Irradiation the Global Agenda" from Australian Freedom & Survival Guide.